James A. Greer, born 28 February 1833 in Cincinnati, Ohio, enlisted in the Navy in 1848. He entered the Naval Academy in 1853 and graduated as a Passed Midshipman the following year. After participating in the Paraguay Expedition, he cruised the west African coast until the outbreak of the Civil War. Greer was serving on board San Jacinto 7 November 1861 when she stopped the British steamer Trent and removed the Confederate commissioners on their way to England, thereby nearly drawing Great Britain into the war on the Confederate side. Green served in St. Louis from 1862 to 1863 and was then attached to Rear Admiral Porter's Mississippi Squadron. While in command of the ironclads Carondelet and Benton, he participated in the Vicksburg campaign and the shelling of Grand Gulf as well as the abortive Red River expedition. After commanding the Naval Station at Mound City, he assumed command of the flagship Blackhawk and then was in charge of conveying Army transports up the Tennessee River. A tour of duty as Assistant to the Commandant at Annapolis after the war was followed by command of Mohongo on the Pacific Station, where Greer was commended for defending American interests in Mexico. After duty at the Naval Academy between 1869 and 1873, Greer returned to the Pacific Station. In 1878 he commanded Tigress when that ship was sent to find and aid Polaris, wrecked on an Arctic expedition. After special service in Constitution during the Paris Exposition, Greer held a variety of shore posts and then served as commander of the European Squadron from 1887 to 1889. Promoted to Rear Admiral in 1892, he retired 28 February 1895. Admiral Greer died in Washington 17 January 1904.
Greer (Destroyer No. 145) was launched by William Cramp & Sons Ship & Engine Building Co., Philadelphia, Pa., 1 August 1918; sponsored by Miss Evelina Porter Gleaves, daughter of Rear Admiral Gleaves; and commissioned 31 December 1918, Comdr. C. E. Smith in command.
Greer's shake down took her to Azores, from which she rendezvoused with George Washington, carrying President Woodrow Wilson home from the Versailles Peace Conference, and escorted her to the United States. After exercises in coastal waters, Greer was assigned to Trepassy Bay, Newfoundland, for duties during a transatlantic flight by four Navy seaplanes, one of which, NC-4, safely completed the historic undertaking. After further training exercises and a European cruise, Greer was assigned to the Pacific Fleet, reaching San Francisco 18 November 1919.
Six months duty with the Pacific Fleet terminated 25 March 1920 when Greer sailed to join the Asiatic fleet. After standing by off Shanghai to protect American lives and property during riots there in May, Greer sailed to Port Arthur and Darien on intelligence missions and returned to Cavite, P.I., for fleet exercises. The destroyer returned to San Francisco 29 September 1921 via Guam, Midway, and Pearl Harbor. Greer decommissioned at San Diego 22 June 1922, and was placed in reserve.
Greer recommissioned 31 March 1930, Comdr. J. W. Bunkley in command. Operating with the Battle Fleet, she participated in a variety of exercises along the coast from Alaska to Panama, with an occasional voyage to Hawaii. Transferred to the Scouting Fleet 1 February 1931, she cruised off Panama, Haiti, and Cuba before being attached to the Rotating Reserve from August 1933 to February 1934. Training exercises, battle practice, and plane guard duty filled Greer's peacetime routine for the next 2 years. She sailed for the East Coast and duty with the Training Squadron 3 June 1936. After conducting Naval Reserve cruises throughout that summer, Greer sailed for the Philadelphia Navy Yard 28 September and decommissioned there 13 January 1937.
As war swept across Europe, Greer recommissioned 4 October 1939, Comdr. J. J. Mahoney in command, and joined Destroyer Division 61 as flagship. After patrolling the East Coast and Carribbean, Greer joined the Neutrality Patrol in February 1940. Detached from this duty 5 October, the destroyer patrolled the Carribbean that winter. She joined other American ships on operations in the North Atlantic early in 1941, out of Reykjavik, Iceland, and Argentia, Newfoundland. United States ships, as non-belligerents, could not attack Axis submarines; but, as the German high command stepped up the pace of the war through the summer of 1944, Greer found herself involved in an incident which brought America's entry into the war nearer.
The "Greer Incident" occurred 4 September. At 0840 that morning Greer, carrying mail and passengers to Argentia, was signaled by a British plane that a Nazi submarine had crash-dived some 10 miles ahead. Forty minutes later the DD's soundman picked up the German U-boat, and Greer began to trail the submarine. The plane, running low on fuel, dropped four depth charges at 1032 and returned to base, while Greer continued to dog the U-boat. Two hours later the German boat began a series of radical maneuvers and Greer's lookouts saw her pass about 100 yards off. An impulse bubble at 1248 warned Greer of a torpedo and she rang up flank speed and bore rudder hard left. Lookouts watched the torpedo pass 100 yards astern and the warship then charged in for an attack. She laid a pattern of eight depth charges which missed, and less than two minutes later a second torpedo passed 300 yards to port.
Greer lost sound contact during the maneuvers, and began to quarter the area in search of the U-boat. After 2 hours, she reestablished sound contact and laid down a pattern of 11 depth charges before discontinuing the engagement. Greer had held the German raider in sound contact 3 hours and 28 minutes; had evaded two torpedoes fired at her; and with her 19 depth charges had become the first American ship in World War II to attack the German Kriegsmarine.
When news of the attack against an American ship reached the United States, public feeling ran high. President Roosevelt seized this occasion to make another of his famed "fireside chats," one in which he brought America nearer to outright involvement in the European war. Declaring that Germany had been guilty of an act of piracy, President Roosevelt in effect unleashed American ships and planes for offensive action as he stated "in the waters which we deem necessary for our defense, American naval vessels and American planes will no longer wait until Axis submarines lurking under the water, or Axis raiders on the surface of the sea, strike their deadly blowfirst." With this "shoot on sight order," the period of "undeclared war" in the Atlantic began.
Greer remained in the North Atlantic through 1941, shepherding convoys to and from MOMP, the mid-ocean meeting point at which American ships took over escort duties from the hard-pressed Royal Navy. After overhaul at Boston, she turned south 3 March 1942 to resume patrol duty in the Caribbean, fast becoming a favorite German hunting ground. In addition to regular escort duties, Greer performed many other tasks, including rescuing 39 victims of German U-boats. In May she stood guard off Pointe a Pitre, Guadaloupe, lest the Vichy French government try to get cruiser Jeanne d'Arc to sea.
Sailing from Guantanamo 23 January 1943, Greer sailed to Boston then headed for the Atlantic convoy duty. Departing Argentia, Newfoundland 1 March 1943, she escorted merchantmen for Northern Ireland. During heavy North Atlantic gales, the convoy lost seven ships to three separate U-boat attacks before reaching Londonderry 13 March. Greer then escorted 40 merchantmen on the return voyage without incident, and continued on to Hampton Roads 15 April with tanker Chicopee.
After exercises in Casco Bay, Greer departed New York 11 May with a convoy of 83 ships. Reaching Casablanca, Morocco, 1 June, the destroyer patrolled off the North African port and then recrossed the Atlantic, arriving New York 27 June. After another run to Northern Ireland, Greer returned to New York 11 August.
After steaming to Norfolk, she sailed for the British West Indies 26 August to serve briefly as plane guard to Santee. She rendezvoused with a convoy in the Caribbean and headed for North Africa. Diverted to New York, she docked there 14 September. Routine training exercises turned into tragedy 15 October as Greer collided with Moonstone (PYc-9) off the mouth of Indian River, Delaware Capes (35 miles southeast of Cape May, New Jersey). Moonstone sank in less than 4 minutes, but Greer rescued all the crew but one.
After repairs, the destroyer escorted French crusier Gloire from New York to Norfolk. Greer sailed 26 December with another Casablanca-bound convoy and after an uneventful crossing returned to Boston 9 February 1944. This was the final transatlantic crossing for the old four-stack destroyer, as she and her sister ships were replaced by newer and faster escorts.
The veteran destroyer spent the remainder of her long career performing a variety of necessary tasks in American waters. After a tour of submarine training duty at New London, Greer became plane guard for several new carriers during the summer of 1944. Operating from various New England ports, she served with Ranger, Tripoli, Mission Bay, and Wake Island. Sailing to Key West in February 1945, Greer continued plane guard duty until 11 June when she sailed to the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
Greer decommissioned 19 July 1945. Her name was struck from the Navy list 13 August and her hulk was sold to the Boston Metal Salvage Co. of Baltimore 30 November 1945.
Greer received one battle star for World War II service.